Nepenthes Rajah: The Big Carnivorous Plant that Just Wants to Eat Poop

Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
May 26 2014 1:46 PM

Nepenthes Rajah: The Big Carnivorous Plant that Just Wants to Eat Poop

Atlas Obscura on Slate is a blog about the world's hidden wonders. Like us on Facebook, Tumblr, or follow us on Twitter @atlasobscura.

Deep in the forests of Malaysian Borneo lurks a most peculiar plant. First recorded in 1859, Nepenthes rajah is the largest of the pitcher plants. These carnivorous wonders feature liquid-filled cavities that lure and trap insects.

Ants are the preferred cuisine of the Nepenthes rajah, but the plant has been known to trap much larger organisms in its urn-shaped cavity. Rats, frogs, lizards, and birds have all been found in the rajah's sticky grasp.

Advertisement

Rat-eating plants make for fascinating botanical fodder, but Nepenthes rajah's considerable dimensions—the largest recorded urn can hold almost a gallon of water—probably aren't meant for trapping rodents.

In 2011, a team of scientists lead by Monash University carnivorous plant expert Dr. Charles Clarke published their findings after studying interactions between tree shrews, rats, and N. rajah. The report's main discovery was that these small mammals habitually landed on the rim of the plant and fed on nectar from the lid while defecating into the urn. Nepenthes rajah was their food source and toilet rolled into one. And that suited N. rajah just fine—the rat and tree shrew poop provided the plant with valuable nitrogen.

As a result of this study, it is now thought that Nepenthes rajah may have evolved to accommodate the feeding-and-pooping behavior of the tree shrews. The distance from the front rim of the pitcher to the nectar on the lid corresponds to the length of the tree shrew's body, allowing it to dine and defecate simultaneously in comfort. It's a heart-warming example of a plant and animal living in perfect harmony.

Other peculiar plants:


View Mesilau Nature Resort in a larger map

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

Even if You Don’t Like Batman, You Might Like Gotham

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Nicolas Sarkozy, Thrice Married, Says Gay Marriage Humiliates the Family

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 5:33 PM The Politics of Stigma Why are lighter-skinned Latinos and Asians more likely to vote Republican?
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 22 2014 4:06 PM No, Women’s Soccer Does Not Have a Domestic Violence Problem Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 5:45 PM The University of California Corrects “Injustice” by Making Its Rich Chancellors Even Richer
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.